What do your clients find when they Google you?
The answer to that simple question lies at the heart of the personal digital profile concept. For most lawyers, your law firm website bio will be front and center in the results, and that is as it should be. While ensuring that particular page is prominent in search results for your name is a necessary step, my own view is that it is not a sufficient one.
Lawyers are inherently predisposed to manage and minimize risk, and building out your digital profile is a strategy for doing just that when it comes to one of your most valued assets as a lawyer – your reputation. This fact became very apparent to me several years ago when a friend – and young lawyer – was subject to an egregious defamatory attack online. The perpetrator was a sophisticated, tech-savvy and unscrupulous sort, based abroad, and while my lawyer friend pursued the matter through appropriate legal channels, getting the offending material removed from major search engines was a cumbersome, lengthy and expensive process, during which time anyone searching my friend’s name online was bombarded with an array of falsified documents, quotes and images intended to inflict as much reputational damage as possible.
While the litigation process played itself out, I assisted my friend in minimizing the impact of the offending material by building up a catalogue of high-ranking online properties (blogs, websites, biographies on credible third-party sites, etc.) that presented the true picture of his accomplishments, professional work and character. This had the beneficial effect of pushing the defamatory materials much deeper down the search results, effectively out of sight for all but the most ardent searchers. I was struck even then by how much less impact the defamatory material would have had if the profile-building we undertook had been in place before the attack on his reputation occurred, instead of in response to it.
While most of us won’t find ourselves in the unfortunate circumstance of being repeatedly and deliberately defamed online, the underlying logic of occupying that prime space on search results pages for your name remains sound. “Googling” as a verb is now a fact of life. We Google people, products and services of interest constantly throughout the day. Clients – current and prospective – do too. What they find on that search engine results page makes an immediate impression, and if you don’t occupy the territory, someone or something else does. If prospective clients see multiple credible online sources referencing your professional work, it provides an instant snapshot of your expertise, and enhances your own credibility accordingly. Conversely, a single (stale) bio page nestled amidst a smattering of 10k fun run results, irrelevant/inappropriate links to other similarly named people, a cranky restaurant review you submitted four years ago, and a reference in your sister-in-law’s personal blog to your last vacation also makes an immediate impression, but of a less favourable kind. In an era of increasing lateral mobility, a single law firm bio page attesting to your life as a lawyer can also disappear overnight if your employment circumstances suddenly change.
How much profile-building is enough? That’s a matter of personal judgment, but I believe most lawyers should (and easily can) take more control of their digital profile than they currently do. With that background, I offer suggestions on five relatively simple steps you can take to manage and enhance your online profile:
- Set up a Google Alert on your name
You can do so in about 30 seconds at http://www.google.com/alerts. It won’t change any search results in and of itself, but it will keep you up to date on what others are saying about you online so that you know if there is something to which you need to respond.
- Set up/enhance your Linkedin Profile
You probably already have one but they are becoming more important over time and frequently trump even firm bio pages in search engine visibility. Ensure yours is complete and keep it up to date.
- Set up your Google Profile
You probably don’t already have one (depending on your level of geekiness), and they are becoming more important. Find out more and get yours here: https://profiles.google.com/
- Acquire your vanity url
By vanity url I mean registering your own name as a website domain – i.e. www.yourname.com. In an increasingly fractured online environment I regularly see tech-savvy folks use their vanity domain as a directory of their various social media profiles as well as other places on the web where they are active. I simply use an oversize business card on mine. It may seem like overkill, but due to the way current search engine algorithms work, you can put up a very simple single-page site and it will show up highly in searches. Consider it cheap insurance for your good name.
- Contribute professional web content beyond your firm site
Writing for blogs, industry associations or other recognized online sources such as JD Supra are all great ways to “diversify your portfolio” and leverage the existing search engine visibility of established organizations to develop a more comprehensive web profile for your legal work.
As a lawyer, you already know your reputation is critically important. That being the case, don’t leave your online reputation to chance.